The female gaze: 5 films by women to see at this year's NZIFF

This year's NZIFF programming defies its shameful global context to celebrate the emergence of international female voices telling the stories of women’s lives.

Above: Kristen Stewart stars in Certain Women.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently ran an experiment. Dissatisfied with the number of women — 21 per cent — in senior roles, the bureau changed its recruitment process. It advertised 19 senior positions, then concealed the applicants’ identifying details, including names and genders, from the recruiters. The “blind” experiment resulted in 15 women being appointed, doubling the number of female leaders at the bureau in a matter of months.

Of course, unconscious bias is not only rife in the driest of government departments on the world's driest continent. Behold the celluloid ceiling of the film industry, where women continue to navigate exclusionary hiring practices and gendered financial barriers. Where women make up four per cent of directors hired by the major Hollywood studios.

The numbers appear marginally better in the UK, where 13.6 per cent of working film directors are women. But to drill deeper is to be dispirited: the number of British films made by women increased by just 0.6 per cent from 2004 to 2014. Meanwhile, the drumbeat for gender parity is growing louder.

Pay attention and you can hear the echoes even here, in Auckland, during the Film Festival. The programming this year defies its shameful global context to celebrate the emergence of international female voices telling the stories of our lives. It is rich with films directed by and about women.
Behold the celluloid ceiling of the film industry, where women continue to navigate exclusionary hiring practices and gendered financial barriers.

Among them is Certain Women, an understated ensemble drama in which rage simmers under the slow surface as the intersecting everyday lives of three women in Montana (played by Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern) are revealed. US writer-director and NZIFF third-timer Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy; Meek’s Cutoff) fuses her obsession with women’s psychology with the mid-western American landscape to profound poetic effect.

Sand Storm examines what is, in fact, a societal storm that ensues when a Bedouin village is exposed to modern mores. It looks at the inequalities that entrap women through a teenage girl caught between the constraints of her traditional role and her desire to control her own destiny. The feature-length debut of Israeli film-maker Elite Zexer, it won the Grand Jury Prize (World Dramatic) at Sundance this year.



What would testosterone-fuelled Wall Street be like without men in charge? Equity, a noirish thriller that puts Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and her power suit front and centre, gives an idea. Directed by Meera Menon and written and co-produced by women, the film is a smart and juicy “morality play” complete with a seductive but duplicitous homme fatale.

Lovesong, by American film-maker So Yong Kim, is a bittersweet tale of muted desire and the ambiguity that can exist within friendship. The film transcends the familiar sub-genre clichés of female buddy movie, road movie and lesbian romance, according to American critic John Frosch, to “something specific, nuanced and insightful”. As the buddies in question, Jena Malone and Riley Keough perfectly capture unspoken (and sometimes unformed) emotional truths.



No Home Movie is the final film made by Chantal Akerman, the visionary Belgian film-maker and a pioneer of modern feminist cinema, before her death last October aged 65. The documentary charts the final months of her mother Natalia’s own life, which is largely confined to her Brussels apartment. Natalia reluctantly revisits her past as a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz and the chronic anxiety from which she suffers, and which fuelled much of her daughter’s creative output. No Home Movie has been hailed on the film-festival circuit as a moving chronicle of a fraught but profoundly loving mother-daughter relationship.